Members of La Siembra Co-operative, owners of Camino, an Ottawa-Gatineau-based Canadian brand of Fairtrade and organic products, would no doubt encourage consumers to choose their high-quality, tasty and ethically traded products. But according to executive director Kelly Storie, they have an equally important message to share about the goal of promoting sustainable livelihoods and fostering community development.
“We want people, even if they’re not engaging with us or buying Camino products, to understand and become advocates for small-scale farmers globally,” says Ms. Storie, who won a Co-operative Spirit Award from the Ontario Co-operative Association and was a finalist for the Stevie Awards Female Executive of the Year in 2019.
The commitment to equitable trade – and offering a healthy alternative to conventional imported chocolate and other products – is embedded in the operations at La Siembra. The co-operative, established in 1999, became the first registered importer of Fairtrade Certified cocoa and sugar in North America. Today, La Siembra works with 25 producer co-ops, supporting more than 47,500 family farmers in 14 countries.
“We try to think of ourselves not just in terms of this small worker co-op but within this ecosystem that we depend on and that depends on us,” she says. “We see our small-scale farmer partners as an extension of ourselves.”
This distinction is important, notes Ms. Storie, since “the confectionery space is a very competitive, very noisy shelf space to occupy, especially in a mass grocery environment.
“What works for us is that we’re independent, we’re democratic, we’re local, and we’re really trying to create a bigger impact for small producers.”
In the power dynamic of the marketplace, “the voice of farmers at the table is often silent,” she says, suggesting that consumers can counter this by asking questions about the ethical claims made by stores where they shop, and by companies, manufacturers and brands.
“Purchasing Fairtrade organic ingredients really does help support the social and economic development smallholder farmers need. But even if customers aren’t necessarily tuned in to Fairtrade, most understand why buying organic is important.
“Organic is the future of food,” Ms. Storie says. “It’s about personal health, the health of the local environment, but also in terms of supporting environmental standards globally.”
Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA). The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.